Thoughts on guns.

Still, still processing my thoughts on the shooting but there are a few important observations I’m ready to weigh in on.

Back when this was Jared Loughner, the immediate reaction is that this is what happens in an America overrun by right wing extremism. When you shoot Congressmembers, you’re a right wing extremist. When you shoot kids, you’re just deranged. I’m more convinced now than ever that the national conversation we had in the wake of the Giffords shooting regarding violent rhetoric and the right wing was quite off the mark unproductive. I am NOT trying to equate the motives of shooting children and attempting assassination. But I think a national conversation about doing better in identifying and helping individuals with mental disabilities and violent dispositions is more directionally correct in getting at the real cause of these one-off acts.

I’m still quite shocked that nothing is being said about the violence people are exposed to through the media today as a contributing factor to the apparent increase in mass murder. Our special effects are more horrific and realistic than ever in our films. How many kids are getting first-person shooter games for XBox this Christmas? How many parents proudly accompanied their children to Act of Valor, and will do so again for Zero Dark Thirty? The media and Internet also carry visual and narrative depictions of horrible real world crime and disseminate it widely. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy here but surely the media is capable of some self reflection.

I am not opposed to public policy allowing gun ownership, but I think the Second Amendment has been absolutely poisonous to the discourse and an obstacle to better public policy. I can’t think of any good reason why people should have an absolute right to own murderous machines. Ironically, those who defend this right most vehemently are often deniers of positive liberty. The right exists here though, and it provides a moral dimension to what should be governed purely by the prudential. I actually have people tell me guns are important to defend ourselves against our government. 1) your government owns horrific weapons that are far superior more devastating than your semi-automatic Constitutionally guaranteed hand gun. 2) no insurrecting society ever relied on a constitutional guarantee to be armed in order to arm itself. 3) Most importantly, the probability of you needing to defend yourself against the government is approximately zero. It’s even less than the likelihood your small child will be gunned down at school. Now weigh that against the probability of someone, probably black, dying in one of the many incredibly violent corners of our society that gets ignored but where you must fear for your life every. single. day and from which there is no meaningful chance of escape or betterment. Perspective.

I don’t believe in making public policy based on isolated events. But there’s a culture of violence in parts of this country that is due to years of racial oppression and, perhaps to an extent, the armed culture of our society. Gun ownership is tearing at the fabric. It’s becoming a powerful determinant of ideology. It’s negatively correlated with educational attainment, and with being a Democrat, and the gap is growing.

I don’t have all of the answers, but one clear step seems to be leveling registration requirements. No more gun show loopholes. Regulation should apply equally, always. I don’t support loopholes generally and particularly in this matter.

The real heavy lifting is getting at the core of the problem. Better mental health care to identify those who would kill indiscriminately and better social policy to fight the culture of gun crime that devastates many minority communities, which coupled with better regulation would lead to improved outcomes for preventing these people from getting weapons, giving them and would-be victims a shot chance at a better and longer existence. We could also use a better national dialogue around the culture of violence portrayed by the media and perpetuated in attitudes suggesting that we have a right to vigilante justice in the name of defending our freedom.

We are fortunate that as a society we are peaceful and getting more so. Homicide is way down. Most people don’t want to kill other people. But some do, and some always will. The question in my mind is “can we do better.” I think the answer is yes.


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